Sunday, April 26, 1998

by Jonah

We had to leave the park before it closed at 8. Back in the car accompanied by drum and bass (Paul evidently composes), we returned to the house, number 135, not 175. James made me a sausage and cheese sandwich with brown sauce. I didn’t realize there was actually called such a thing. Then I went upstairs to watch Austin Powers on laser disc in Paul’s room with him and Al, while James gave Allison a bass lesson in the cellar (basement). It’s a tiny room centered around a small TV screen, surrounded by an incredible sound system. A sleeping pallet to sit on, curtains draped on the walls, and candles burning completed the atmosphere, which consisted mainly of the smoke from the cigarettes Paul and Alister were stripping and rerolling to smoke.

A man in underwear and socks just walked in and asked if I was okay. “I’ve been asleep for four hours,” he informed me, “Now I feel great, ready to get on with the day.” Hmmm… I guess that was Al, which means the other guy I was watching Austin Powers with was someone else, but I can’t remember his name. I don’t even know how many people live here. There’s James, of course, and Paul and Rob, who walks with crutches, and Melissa, the only female (officially). Then I think there’s John and Ed, since both have been in the kitchen acting as if it belonged to them. I don’t know if there are anymore. I sleep where I can. The first night I slept on the floor in James’ Room with Allison and her 4-year-old Jessica, who’s crazy about the Spice Girls, all except Scary Spice. Last night I was on Melissa’s “bed,” since she was spending the night elsewhere. Tonight? Who knows. Possibly the couch. I’m sitting on one of them now in an orange painted room with a radioactive blue that wants to be teal trim. On the wall are three Slam Gundog Diplomacy insignias, probably thanks to James, who until recently managed a surf shop. The air duct along the ceiling is painted red with large, black polka dots. The radiator has black Holstein splotches. The TV sits atop a psychedelically coloured box. And the rear speakers of the surround sound system are covered in zebra faux fur.

As are the drums down in the cellar/studio. There’s quite a collection of instruments down there, as there care evidently quite an assortment of instruments James can play. I’ve been told he’s an amazing bass player, though I’ve only heard him pick up a guitar. Then there’s the conga and bongo drums we took with us in the car to Coventry yesterday for him to play at the opening of a crisis pregnancy center. The praise band sounded really good. They sounded even better this morning at worship. 2 electric guitars, bass, drums, trombone, keyboard, 2 female vocalists, and conga drums, played by James, who led worship. The message was given by Richard, a guitar player, who gave a great talk on Psalms. I actually stayed awake, probably because I was scribbling on the bulletin.

From the boys club gym where the meeting was held, we crammed into Graham’s car and went to the University to get food. Then Graham, Melissa, James, Zoe, and I went to a pub or something where James had promised to hear a girl in multicolured pants (only they call them “trousers” here; “pants denote underwear) sing an play guitar. The others wanted to have a picnic, the day having turned out bright and beautiful, so in compromise we ate the ice cream out in the street and then went in to hear the chick try to be Tracy Chapman. I had a half pint of something, which I drunk much too rapidly, and read parts of the Sunday Independent. When we had been there long enough, the carful of us came back to the house and ate.

James is looking to buy a car, since he was to drive north tomorrow, so after lunch, we drove all over Leaminton Spa looking at cars.

The last two nights I’ve accompanied James to pubs, stuffed beyond capacity with young adults, smoking, drinking, and shouting over the noise. This seems to be every young person’s idea of a good time on weekends, though I’m not sure why.

Friday night Allison, James, and I met up with Melissa and Claudia downtown and spent the remaining time, before the big bouncer threw everyone out, drinking pints and dodging members of the crowd trying to reach the bar. A couple of forty-somethings struck up a conversation with me. One of them claimed to be a plumber for Wales. He introduced his mate as a gynecologist. “And a very good gynecologist he is.” I’m sure. They asked if I would sing the national anthem. I said I would if they could find a flag. The “gynecologist nodded and turned to the bartender asking for an American flag. Instead, he gave him an American beer. The bloke tried to pass the bottle of Budweiser off to any of us, finally turning it upside down in James’ pint glass.

Last night we went to the Sozzled Sausage. What a name. Everyone has assured me that it is a “a quite nice place” in the daytime, though yesterday evening it was so jam packed with people the bouncer wouldn’t let us in until five other people left. Then he made me take off my hat, which was unfortunate, seeing as my hair needed washing. Nevertheless, I talked to a fellow named Justin, who unhappily woks in Marks and Spenser and would rather research history and political science or become a music critic. Francis told me there’s a real apathy amongst the British. Everyone resigns themselves to their lot in life. There is no encouragement to succeed or do anything that would change the class structure.

When we were ejected from the Sausage, the others went to Mirage, “the place we’re not going. It’s so cheesy,” explained James as he led the way home. I guess it’s much like Legends, so I wasn’t heartbroken. I went to bed instead of staying up till 2 the night before watching The Fifth Element again. Funny, the phone card I bought in Gillingham is a special edition 5th Element publicity thing. It says Corbin Dallas Multipass on the back. Even though it’s time is used up, I still carry it around as sort of a talisman, the same as the Becks bottle cap in my jacket pocket and Dutch coin I found Friday.

Al just offered to make me a pickle and cheese sandwich.

Yesterday, after the pregnancy center opening, Allison fixed us beans on toast for lunch at her house. Then she drove us downtown in Coventry, where James showed me around the Cathedral. The gutted shell of the one bombed in WWII remains next to the modern structure connected to it. I wasn’t sure I would like the new building much, but as I read the simple passages on the walls, proclaiming words of forgiveness and love from the Scriptures, the existence of this edifice made more sense than all the Gothic architecture I had encountered thus far. This stark structure with stained glass windows that didn’t depict much of anything made more sense than flying buttresses and carved saints and tomb effigies in a stone cavern demanding piety. Here, in this simple walls and roof, the message of peace preached itself. I wasn’t even offended by the small stand set up to sell post cards and stuff. And we didn’t have to pay to get in.

Most of Coventry was bombed flat in the war, so the appearance of the buildings is mostly ’60’s, James asked me as we took the bus and then walked back home if I missed my home. I admitted that my first day in the Midlands I kept seeing people I thought I recognized. Leamington, as well as the surrounding areas, remind me of America. The streets are wider (and straighter), the buildings further apart, the fields larger and with fewer hedges. James says the pace of life is fast here than in the south, in Somerset, where he comes from. “I try to return to Somerset time on weekends,” he said, casually crossing the street without looking to see if anyone were coming. He reminds me of others, I realized the other night. Take Matt Humphrey and add Spirit Meller plus the ability to play drums.

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